Interview with Theresa Ebagua, founder of Chelsea Paris

Find out how reading about how designers like Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin got their break inspired Theresa Ebagua to launch luxury footwear brand Chelsea Paris.

What’s your career background?

I began my career in IT infrastructure consulting after earning a degree in computer science. I worked in technology for a decade but never thought I’d have the courage to make a career out of my love – luxury footwear. 

Where did the idea for your business come from?

As a teenager, I was captivated by the textures and silhouettes of shoes I found scouring flea markets and vintage stores, but my brand was first conceived after my mom passed.

I was on a plane from London to LA, flipping through an editorial I collected from the seat-back pocket when I happened upon a profile on footwear designers. It detailed how Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, and the like got their start. Each story resonated with me so deeply – it was my “aha moment”.

How did you move from idea to actual business?

When I was younger, I could never imagine turning my passion into a business. Over a decade in, at the height of my career, I still had an intense desire to design footwear. I risked it all and decided to run after my dreams and I could not be happier.

I studied at Ars Sutoria in Milan and after graduating, I completed a one-year apprenticeship at family-owned factories in Italy. In what felt like a whirlwind, I grew a business from my childhood dream. 

What’s your USP?

My USP is the integration of my heritage with my brand. I value individuality. My African heritage informs and inspires my brand as a whole, especially when it comes to colors and textures. Each shoe reflects a fusion of African artistry, international influence, timeless design, and European craftsmanship. I lean on my culture and nonconformity. 

Who’s your target audience?

My target audience is consumers in the US, UK, and beyond who are free-spirited and never swayed by outré trends. I make shoes for those who are moved by their own desires and nurture femininity while remaining entirely individual. 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Chelsea Paris began solely in wholesale. It was a great opportunity for the new brand but along the way, I felt our ethos getting lost. Through the launch of our e-commerce site, we have been able to control our narrative.

We use the platform to hone the ethos of the brand- craftsmanship, sustainability, and giving back. This message resonates with my consumers. Our use of social media and traditional PR leads also helps show the world what Chelsea Paris is about.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

My most successful marketing strategy is my ability to own my voice and identity as a strong black female designer in the luxury space. Leaning into my identity as a black girl from Africa resonates with the press and consumers. I’ve been able to show my heritage and DNA while occupying the luxury shoe market. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

The biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome is being the face of the brand and being taken seriously as a black female designer in the luxury space. This market is dominated by white European men and people are surprised to find I am the CEO and founder.

At times I have felt limitations on my creative expression and uncertainty regarding my position with the brand. I was advised to conceal my position as owner-designer. Navigating race and gender in the luxury shoe industry is not easy.

However, with a growing atmosphere of inclusion where diversity is both encouraged and celebrated, I feel tremendous support. I feel more rooted in my identity as an African designer and find moments throughout my collection to honor that heritage. 

And your proudest moment so far?

One of my proudest moments so far is being discovered by Barney’s. While we were a much smaller brand with only two seasons launched, Barney’s reached out to us offering exclusivity with them and introducing us to the American market.

Launching our e-commerce platform is also a moment I am very proud of. It has given me the ability to design and gift our consumers what I want to showcase- what represents the brand and me as an individual. The platform helps me control our narrative through the colors, materials, and styles I produce. 

Why is work so important to you?

Work is so important to me because I am truly passionate about what I do. I enjoy the design and product development stages and seeing my ideas come to life. Designing shoes is an art form to me. It is a way to let my inhibitions go and continue on an artistic journey. 

Who inspires you?

My children inspire me. My daughters, Chelsea and Paris are the inspiration behind the name. What I admire most about my daughters is their individuality and I wanted to capture their energy in my brand. The name is also a reminder that they can follow their dreams, as I have, and learn to be empowered women, with grace and integrity. 

How do you balance your work with your family?

Creating a work-life balance is a challenge for any working mom and I am no exception. Self-care is essential in balancing my career and family. I do yoga often and find time within my week to center myself.

My children are very important to me, and I always make an effort to be present for them and their activities while staying on top of my business. It’s a work in progress.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

My advice is to embrace the journey. Finding space in any industry can be challenging but trusting the process is important, especially in the beginning stages.

Secondly, you must know your craft incredibly well and pursue internships to fortify your experience. Diversify your knowledge; working with other fashion houses and brands can help cultivate a well-rounded understanding of the business of being creative.

Lastly, when you’re ready to launch your own brand, be bold and trust your instincts!

Find out more about Chelsea Paris.